Never Smoked but Diagnosed with Lung Cancer


The number of smokers has reduced in the United States but people who have never smoked are increasingly developing lung cancer. This may be puzzling because smoking tobacco has been identified as the top factor predisposing people to lung cancer. Statistics show that one out of five people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked.

Lung cancer can be caused by environmental factors including exposure to cancer-causing items such as asbestos, radon gas trapped inside a room or air pollution. There is, however, no specific cause that ‘never smokers’ can pinpoint. It is important to note that people that have never smoked usually get a particular type of non-small cell lung cancer known as adenocarcinoma.

More useful information about this disease includes:

  • There are studies that suggest that non-smokers have a better overall survival and especially if the lung cancer is caught early. Symptoms may present but may be misdiagnosed as a respiratory infection or allergies since a large emphasis is placed on whether a patient smokes and their age. This often leads to a late diagnosis of lung cancer.
  • Never smokers require different and specialized treatment. This is because many such patients have particular mutations that may be unresponsive to certain medications but not to others. An example is EGFR, which positions itself on the cell surface and can signal cancer cells to divide and grow further. This means that immunotherapy would not be effective in many never smokers.
  • Research is ongoing into the possible treatment avenues for never smokers with lung cancer. So far, research has shown that it affects more women than men. They carry the hormone estrogen which the lungs then convert into a carcinogenic substance. The carcinogenic estrogen metabolite is higher in Chinese-American women than non-Hispanic white women.

Clinical trials and further research could open more opportunities and breakthroughs in the treatmentof this disease as they delve into understanding the resistance to immunotherapy and how to overcome it.

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